When I sat down to give one last read to this post on Molly Wizenberg's new book, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, I did what one does when it's time to really focus. I checked Twitter.

At the top of the feed I found a friend's tweet announcing that Molly was on the radio, at that very moment, talking about Delancey, in an interview recorded at the wood-fired pizza restaurant of the same name (hers with her husband, Brandon Petit). So, I had Molly's voice as company for my edits, and current rewrite, while I snacked on a piece of shortbread made from a recipe found in the book.

It was an Escher drawing, come to life, with cookies. 

molly's rosemary candied ginger shortbread | tara o'brady

I've known Molly long enough that our emails go back to when I had a completely different job, and there's one in which she introduces one Mr. Brandon, still a student and waiter in NYC at the time. With that history, what follows here isn't meant to be an unbiased review. It is difficult to remove bias when speaking about a friend, and honestly, I don't want to. 

Molly's site introduced me to food blogs. Orangette was mentioned somewhere else, and I clicked the link; it took me to a warm chickpea salad. I didn't really know what a food blog was, or that they would become a thing, but I still knew what I was reading was good. 

(In searching for that particular piece just now, I fell back into step with Keaton, Jimmy's buttered brunches, and Rebecca's all-red straw collection. I lost an hour in the process, and ate a handful of salted pistachios, an apple, and two small squares of chocolate. That is the pull of Molly's writing. It makes you want to read more. It also makes you very hungry.) 

But really, you don't need me to tell you how good Molly's stories are. First at Orangette, then in her column in Bon Appetit, then elsewhere (including the Washington Post and her Spilled Milk podcast), then with her first book, A Handmade Life, Molly established herself not only as a talent, but as an exceptional one. Though superlatives are often ascribed willy-nilly, she is a benchmark of contemporary food writing, in the truest, realest sense of the word.

molly's rosemary + candied ginger shortbread | seven spoons

Sixteen Candles turned 30 two days ago. One anniversary tribute argued it as John Hughes's best work, not just for Jake Ryan and that dining table, but for how it showed difficulty to be more inclusive than exclusive; nobody is really spared from personal doubt, not even the popular kids.

(And there goes half an hour watching Sixteen Candles clips.)

In a culture that often manufactures glossed perfection, or uses hard times as a praise-courting kind of martyrdom, the story of Delancey is told in a frank plainness that saves it from being overly sentimental, while still keeping an acute sense of the all-too-real turmoil it accounts.

Some of the stories are familiar, having been hinted at on Orangette, but here there's the full look at how things went. Delancey picks up where A Homemade Life left off, with Brandon and Molly still settling into their new marriage, the decision to open a restaurant in Seattle, then chronicles its subsequent construction and early days.

The book isn't about the restaurant. Not really. The restaurant is of course what pushes the story along, but at the heart of it is what it takes to actively build the life you want; the commitment, the swallowing fear, the joy, and the toll. It is about building that life with someone, the support and faith that takes, and the uncomfortable realization that there can be distance and discord within the strongest of partnerships. It is about growing up, about claiming responsibility for our choices, and ownership of the people we become.

Delancey shows how one of the best can get even better. Molly's sharp-witted, playful voice still rings with authenticity, yet has matured. It reads as honest, at points painfully so, with a deep-set vulnerability. Parts are awkward, complicated, and messy.  Molly isn't always the hero. She shows her own bad-guy moments, and admits when she wished she could have acted differently than she did. She is self-aware, and hopeful. 

Delancey is like how we talk to friends about life, after opening a second bottle of wine.

molly's rosemary candied ginger shortbread | tara o'brady

Molly, you introduced us to French toast fried in oil, bouchons de thon, and Corentine's way with carrots. You showed us the potential of this medium, proved to an industry the value of new voices, and you are an essential part of this community. You have shared these years, shared Delancey, Essex, your friends, the dogs, your family, your mother, Burg, Brandon, and now sweet June.

Thank you for writing, M. Thanks for all of it. 

 

MOLLY'S SHORTBREAD WITH ROSEMARY + CANDIED GINGER 

Just like in A Homemade Life, Delancey has recipes to end chapters; while linked to the restaurant in many ways, they are not restaurant recipes per se. Instead they are those which represent a certain point in time (Vietnamese rice noodle salad, sautéed dates with sea salt, one heck of a cocktail called The Benjamin Wayne Smith) or, in the case of this shortbread, a roasted pork shoulder, and a trick with red wine vinaigrette, they're ones that came into their life because of the restaurant.

I won't excerpt the Molly's headnote, as the story behind this recipe is another reason to grab the book. But the cookies are inspired by ones served by the late Christina Choi at her restaurant, Nettletown.

The shortbread comes together in a flash, straightforward as shortbreads go, with the expected triumvirate of butter, sugar, and flour, then rosemary and candied ginger are invited to hang out. The combination is fiercely aromatic on the cutting board, but when baked, it unwinds. So, the lolling richness of the shortbread gets broadened by the thrumming warmth the ginger, and made slightly-more-savoury with the herb's resiny sharpness. I want to try them with a few, stingy drops of almond extract, and made slightly larger to serve as base for macerated strawberries. 

I did add a gilding roll of the dough in sugar before baking; the step added just enough texture to emphasize the edge of each cookie. I liked that.

Barely tweaked from Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage (Simon & Schuster, 2014), by Molly Wizenberg. The recipe is mostly in Molly's words.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (280 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon (about 4 g) finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/3 cup (60 g) chopped candied ginger
  • Sugar, for rolling, see note

METHOD

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and rosemary. Add to the mixer bowl, and beat on low speed until the flour is absorbed and the dough begins to form large clumps that pull away from the sides of the bowl. Add the candied ginger, and mix briefly to incorporate. Divide the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and shape it into roughly 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap, and refrigerate the dough logs for a few hours or overnight, until good and firm.  

When your'e ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Sprinkle sugar over work surface or in a wide, shallow dish large enough to accommodate the dough logs. Remove the logs from the refrigerator and while they're still very cold, roll them in the sugar to coat. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are pale golden, rotating and switching the pans midway through. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. 

These cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week, if not longer. They can also be frozen.

Yield: about 60 cookies 

Note from Tara: This recipe used up the last of my candied ginger, but there was a lot of sugar left in the container. So, I sifted it for any larger clumps, then used that spiced sugar when rolling the cookies, making for an extra ginger kick. Lacking that, sanding sugar would be pretty, and granulated would work just fine.

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You may have noticed the snazzy button on the left. I'm honoured to be nominated for a Best Food Blog Award from Saveur Magazine, in the category of Best Cooking Blog. If you'd like to vote, please click the links, or that award badge on the sidebar. The polls closed April 9th., and congratulations to the winners! Thank you for any and all support. xo

 

The world may not need another banana bread recipe, but banana bread is what I'd offer if you were to come over for coffee today. It has roasted bananas, oats, a whole bunch of seeds and nuts, and then a streusel-ish top. And chocolate. There's chocolate in there. Hopefully you'd be up for a slice.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

I took Home Economics in grade seven. We sewed stuffed animals, learned to iron, and baked a coffee cake that was my first introduction to a New York-style crumb. At the end of each day, we’d do the dishes. The teacher taught us to fill a sink with hot, soapy water at the start of class in anticipation; as we dirtied dishes, in they’d go, so when it was time for clean up, they were already soaking. Knives were the exception. Knives went on the counter, set to one side. "The last thing you want," she'd say, "is to plunge your hand in a sink full of water and find a blade."

For a long time, I was afraid of the knife in the dishwater. The biggest risks in my life were those that happened too fast to for me to consider them first. I didn't jump in, or leap, or leave things to fate. 

In light of all that, it may seem uncharacteristic of me to encourage you to take this recipe and run with it. Seriously. Take note of the basics and go, go, go from there. I've talked about (almost) this one before, in UPPERCASE a few years ago, and it's close to an old standby. As with most breads of its size and ilk there is a basic ratio of (around) 2 cups flour to 3 or 4 bananas to 2 eggs. Fats, from butter to coconut oil to olive oil, will vary, but not by much. 1/3 cup is fairly average. Stay in those parameters, and the possibilities open from there; swap the nuts, add candied ginger or dried fruit. It will be different each time, and almost assuredly very good. 

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

This specific combination came about because of William. He wanted us to make banana bread, and I agreed. As any child in his position would do, Will then proceeded to take best advantage, suggesting we incorporate his favourite things into the loaf. Walnuts, sure. Maple syrup, you betcha. (His grandfather is in the thick of sugaring season.) Cinnamon, alrighty. And because he is five-almost-six years old, chocolate chips. That loaf was gone in a flash. 

A few days later, with a craving for more bread and without any ripe bananas around, I baked barely-ripe fruit to replicate that deep, caramel sweetness of almost-past-their-prime specimens. Once allover black and smelling like butterscotch, I mashed them in the bowl with the sugars, oil (olive, as I was going for a peppery, green sharpness), brown sugar, maple syrup, and eggs. Though it is better form to whisk the dry ingredients before adding to the wet, I was trying to save on bowls for cleanup, so unceremoniously dumped the flours et al on top—it's worth doing the same. When looking for bananas in the freezer I had come across the last spoonfuls of various seeds stashed in there, thought to use them up. 

Sour cream followed for even more sharpness and extra moisture, then chocolate, and nuts. My choice of chocolate is regular bar-style, chopped. I like how chunks push and melt into the batter, so there are pockets of richness in the crumb, but you could stick with William and go for chips. They stay in their discreet kiss shapes, firm and vaguely resistant to the tooth. 

Since I still had seeds to use, streusel solved the problem. The laziest streusel, really. Simply some more oats, flour, seeds, and spice, dampened with olive oil. One last banana arranged on top, and we were off.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

The bread was not what was expected. I had envisioned it would be more like a dessert, but it was restrained. Cake-ish, but still bread. Moderately sweet, tender, stodgy in that way that we know and love about banana breads. While, yes, it is packed crust to crust with all manner of good things, there's not enough of one specific thing to pull attention. The streusel comes closest, baking up scraggly and cracked, but it adds more chew than crunch. The walnuts and oats contribute similarly, and the overall impression is a surprisingly wholesome, a bit woollen, and gentle.

It's a reliable loaf. I am convinced it would get you through Home Ec, and whatever were to follow.

 

 CHOCO-OAT-NUT ROASTED BANANA BREAD

 A note on pans. My original recipe upon which this Frankensteinian version is based fills a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I think this one would squeeze into that size, with an increase in baking time and you'd probably have to tent it with foil towards the end, too. The trouble is, with all the extras added, I'm not absolutely certain that it would emerge with an impressive crown rather than ooze all over the oven. If you give it a go, please report back with your findings.

To that end, and as the last thing I want to do is lead you astray, the directions below reflect the pan I used this time, a long, narrow one, or the alternate option of a tube pan. When using the latter, start checking for doneness at the 50-minute mark. 

FOR THE BREAD

  • Butter for greasing the pan
  • 4 bananas, ripe but firm
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup (105 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup (125 ml) pure maple syrup, grade B is my preference, but I'll take whatever dad has boiled
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (95 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (105 g) whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used sunflower, hemp hearts and sesame)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) sour cream or thick, plain yogurt (not nonfat)
  • 4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1 tablespoon rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons mixed seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 banana, ripe but firm

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°/175°C with a rack in the lower third. Grease a 14-by-4.5-inch loaf pan with butter. Line with parchment paper, with long sides overhanging. Butter the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a standard tube pan, knocking out excess.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the 4 bananas, whole and unpeeled, on top. Bake until the skin is deeply roasted on both sides, but not split, 20 to 30 minutes. Flip once during baking, and add the walnut to the tray for the last 10 minutes of roasting. Remove the bananas to a bowl to collect their juices. Chop the walnuts and set aside.

Once the bananas have cooled a little, remove the peels and leave the fruit in the bowl. Mash to a pulp with the brown sugar. Beat in the maple syrup, olive oil, followed by the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in the vanilla. Sprinkle the flours, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger on top of the wet ingredients. Fold to almost combine, then spoon in the sour cream. Give a few more turns, then gently incorporate the chocolate and walnuts. Scape the batter into the prepared pan. 

In a small bowl, stir together the oats, seeds, flour, cinnamon, and olive oil until it clumps. Honestly, I do this with my fingers, and scrunch it together. Peel and slice the banana into thirds lengthwise. Scatter the streusel over the batter, then arrange the banana on top. Bake in the preheated oven until the bread is golden and puffed, and a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean of batter (chocolate doesn't count), 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then use the parchment to lift the loaf onto the rack to cool completely. 

Makes 1 loaf.

 

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Finally, another piece of news! I will be speaking at Food Bloggers of Canada's conference this fall. I will be partnered with Robert McCullough, Vice President, Random House of Canada and publisher at Appetite by Random House, and the Canadian publisher of my book. The event will be in Vancouver, BC on October 17-19th. Details are on their site, and I'll be sure to share more particulars as they're finalized. Hope to see you there!

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